"There has been no quarrel, Captain Dobbin, except a little usual scene with Papa," the lady said. "We are expecting George back daily. What Papa wanted was only for his good. He has but to come back, and I'm sure all will be well; and dear Rhoda, who went away from here in sad sad anger, I know will forgive him. Woman forgives but too readily, Captain."
"Such an angel as YOU I am sure would," Mr. Dobbin said, with atrocious astuteness. "And no man can pardon himself for giving a woman pain. What would you feel, if a man were faithless to you?"
"I should perish — I should throw myself out of window — I should take poison — I should pine and die. I know I should," Miss cried, who had nevertheless gone through one or two affairs of the heart without any idea of suicide.
"And there are others," Dobbin continued, "as true and as kind- hearted as yourself. I'm not speaking about the West Indian heiress, Miss Osborne, but about a poor girl whom George once loved, and who was bred from her childhood to think of nobody but him. I've seen her in her poverty uncomplaining, broken-hearted, without a fault. It is of Miss Sedley I speak. Dear Miss Osborne, can your generous heart quarrel with your brother for being faithful to her? Could his own conscience ever forgive him if he deserted her? Be her friend — she always loved you — and — and I am come here charged by George to tell you that he holds his engagement to her as the most sacred duty he has; and to entreat you, at least, to be on his side."
When any strong emotion took possession of Mr. Dobbin, and after the first word or two of hesitation, he could speak with perfect fluency, and it was evident that his eloquence on this occasion made some impression upon the lady whom he addressed.
"Well," said she, "this is — most surprising — most painful — most extraordinary — what will Papa say? — that George should fling away such a superb establishment as was offered to him but at any rate he has found a very brave champion in you, Captain Dobbin. It is of no use, however," she continued, after a pause; "I feel for poor Miss Sedley, most certainly — most sincerely, you know. We never thought the match a good one, though we were always very kind to her here — very. But Papa will never consent, I am sure. And a well brought up young woman, you know — with a well-regulated mind, must — George must give her up, dear Captain Dobbin, indeed he must."
"Ought a man to give up the woman he loved, just when misfortune befell her?" Dobbin said, holding out his hand. "Dear Miss Osborne, is this the counsel I hear from you? My dear young lady! you must befriend her. He can't give her up. He must not give her up. Would a man, think you, give YOU up if you were poor?"
This adroit question touched the heart of Miss Jane Osborne not a little. "I don't know whether we poor girls ought to believe what you men say, Captain," she said. "There is that in woman's tenderness which induces her to believe too easily. I'm afraid you are cruel, cruel deceivers," — and Dobbin certainly thought he felt a pressure of the hand which Miss Osborne had extended to him.
He dropped it in some alarm. "Deceivers!" said he. "No, dear Miss Osborne, all men are not; your brother is not; George has loved Amelia Sedley ever since they were children; no wealth would make him marry any but her. Ought he to forsake her? Would you counsel him to do so?"
What could Miss Jane say to such a question, and with her own peculiar views? She could not answer it, so she parried it by saying, "Well, if you are not a deceiver, at least you are very romantic"; and Captain William let this observation pass without challenge.
At length when, by the help of farther polite speeches, he deemed that Miss Osborne was sufficiently prepared to receive the whole news, he poured it into her ear. "George could not give up Amelia — George was married to her" — and then he related the circumstances of the marriage as we know them already: how the poor girl would have died had not her lover kept his faith: how Old Sedley had refused all consent to the match, and a licence had been got: and Jos Sedley had come from Cheltenham to give away the bride: how they had gone to Brighton in Jos's chariot-and-four to pass the honeymoon: and how George counted on his dear kind sisters to befriend him with their father, as women — so true and tender as they were — assuredly would do. And so, asking permission (readily granted) to see her again, and rightly conjecturing that the news he had brought would be told in the next five minutes to the other ladies, Captain Dobbin made his bow and took his leave.
He was scarcely out of the house, when Miss Maria and Miss Wirt rushed in to Miss Osborne, and the whole wonderful secret was imparted to them by that lady. To do them justice, neither of the sisters was very much displeased. There is something about a runaway match with which few ladies can be seriously angry, and Amelia rather rose in their estimation, from the spirit which she had displayed in consenting to the union. As they debated the story, and prattled about it, and wondered what Papa would do and say, came a loud knock, as of an avenging thunder-clap, at the door, which made these conspirators start. It must be Papa, they thought. But it was not he. It was only Mr. Frederick Bullock, who had come from the City according to appointment, to conduct the ladies to a flower-show.
This gentleman, as may be imagined, was not kept long in ignorance of the secret. But his face, when he heard it, showed an amazement which was very different to that look of sentimental wonder which the countenances of the sisters wore. Mr. Bullock was a man of the world, and a junior partner of a wealthy firm. He knew what money was, and the value of it: and a delightful throb of expectation lighted up his little eyes, and caused him to smile on his Maria, as he thought that by this piece of folly of Mr. George's she might be worth thirty thousand pounds more than he had ever hoped to get with her.
"Gad! Jane," said he, surveying even the elder sister with some interest, "Eels will be sorry he cried off. You may be a fifty thousand pounder yet."
The sisters had never thought of the money question up to that moment, but Fred Bullock bantered them with graceful gaiety about it during their forenoon's excursion; and they had risen not a little in their own esteem by the time when, the morning amusement over, they drove back to dinner. And do not let my respected reader exclaim against this selfishness as unnatural. It was but this present morning, as he rode on the omnibus from Richmond; while it changed horses, this present chronicler, being on the roof, marked three little children playing in a puddle below, very dirty, and friendly, and happy. To these three presently came another little one. "POLLY," says she, "YOUR SISTER'S GOT A PENNY." At which the children got up from the puddle instantly, and ran off to pay their court to Peggy. And as the omnibus drove off I saw Peggy with the infantine procession at her tail, marching with great dignity towards the stall of a neighbouring lollipop-woman.